Two days before Neil Matteucci and Norm Kalbfleisch put their longtime home outside of Portland on the market, they opened their doors to select admirers of enduring architecture: People who also live in a Northwest modern dwelling designed by the late Pietro Belluschi, Oregon’s most celebrated architect.
During Sunday’s two-hour reception, guests wandered past varieties of rare trillium plants growing on the wooded hillside before going inside to mingle among friends and preservationists under ceilings finished in clear vertical grain Douglas fir.
Although still winter, the living space, enclosed by glass walls to visually dissolve boundaries between inside and out, was warm and welcoming.
No one in the crowd needed to be reminded that Belluschi was masterful at making simple materials look elegant and he was able to instill warmth through, he said, “the judicious use of such intangibles as space, light, texture and color.”
Once sold, the new owner — only the third in the home’s 73-year history — will receive not only an intact architectural treasure, but instant camaraderie and connections to the legendary architect who influenced modern design around the world.
The group invited to the reception are former or current Belluschi homeowners. Over the decades, they have opened their residences to visiting architects and scholars, participated in fundraising home tours to benefit preservation organizations like Restore Oregon, and hosted dinners for such nonprofit groups as Growing Gardens to ease food insecurity.
The linchpin of this generosity is Marti Belluschi, Pietro’s daughter-in-law, who with Pietro’s son, architect Anthony Belluschi, lives in the 1948 Burkes-Belluschi House in Portland’s Northwest Hills.
“The homeowners are of all ages and interests but we share an appreciation for Belluschi design, midcentury modern sensitivities and a love of Pacific Northwest modernism’s use of wood, stone, glass walls and large overhangs,” said Marti Belluschi. “Belluschi homes are beautifully sited on attractive landscapes, so most Belluschi homeowners also love gardening.”
She has found that this group of a few dozen people have similar taste in art, and, often have identical pieces of iconic modern furniture, such as a Corbusier chaise lounge or Eames chairs.
Mounted on a wall in Matteucci and Kalbfleisch’s living room is an intricate teak panel by Oregon sculptor Leroy Setziol, whom Pietro Belluschi commissioned to create art for commercial, church and residential projects.
Matteucci, who has lived in this Belluschi house for 29 years, agrees that he now has a heightened appreciation for architecture and midcentury Northwest art, and his connection to other owners has shown that they treat their residence as a home, not a “static museum.”
“The houses reflect the personalities of those who live in them but the overriding intent is to respect the integrity of the original design,” said Matteucci. “As with any great architecture, we are all aware that we are caretakers of a structure that is sculptural. We are privileged to be able to live in a work of art.”
Craig Weintz, a broker with Windermere Realty Trust, attended Sunday’s reception at Matteucci and Kalbfleisch’s house.
Weintz has experience marketing architecturally significant structures. In 2019, he was hired by the original owner to sell the famous Rosenthal Residence, architect Robert Oshatz’s towering triangle house that has been perched over Southwest Portland’s Marquam Nature Park since 1984.
Now, Weintz is tasked with finding the new owner of Matteucci and Kalbfleisch’s glass-and-cedar Ressler House, named after the original owner who hired Pietro Belluschi and lived in the home on a former orchard for 43 years.
Weintz states in marketing materials that the 1949 home, now with 2,171 square feet of living space, is a prime example of a “nearly untouched architecture gem” by one of the United States’ foremost architects and designed at the height of his influence.
The Ressler House was planned out as Belluschi’s 1948 Commonwealth Building (originally the Equitable Savings and Loan Association Building) was generating tinted glass-and-aluminum lookalikes across the globe.
The house sits in historic Oak Grove, four square miles of unincorporated land adjacent to the city of Milwaukie in Clackamas County.
Matteucci and Kalbfleisch, both physicians, bought the property in 1993 and over three decades, they preserved and restored original features of the single-level house and hired architect Richard Brown of Telford+Brown Studio Architecture in Po
rtland to add a seamless addition.
The added wing has a sitting room and master suite with a shower and lavatory area that opens to a secluded courtyard shaded by black bamboo. The Japanese-inspired garden leads to a natural stream the current owners environmentally improved.
Weintz likens these tranquil sequences to a zen-like retreat.
Sections of the landscape are as Northwest inspired as the house, with Douglas fir trees and a seasonal showcase of flowering rhododendrons and azaleas.
Matteucci and Kalbfleisch replaced swaths of bramble with perennials they propagated such as Trillium kurabayashii (Giant Purple Wakerobin), which they discovered at the Leach Botanical Garden in Portland.
Their land also served as a lab to grow rare plants for their labor-of-love Woodland Way Nursery.
Anthony Belluschi describes this house as “beautiful … with many visual connections to the lush vegetation, courtyards … and surrounding woods, so often seen in my father’s designs.”
The combination of cedar and glass, original cork floors and a fireplace of long narrow bricks are also classic Pietro Belluschi features, he said.
“Fortunately, the home has been lovingly maintained by the current owners,” Anthony Belluschi said. “A more recent addition is very design sensitive and it creates an easy flow from the old to the new areas. I imagine that my father found working on this project to be very satisfying.”
Anthony Belluschi added that the new owners could call on him for recommendations or if they just want to meet him and his wife, Marti, “to talk about my Dad.”
In 1951, Pietro Belluschi turned away from his highly successful Portland practice to accept an academic job as the dean of the school of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He retired as dean in 1965 and in 1973, he returned to Portland where his reputation for innovation and elegant buildings had begun.
The move was prompted by a tempting offer to buy the 1948 Burkes-Belluschi House from his original client, Mrs. D.C. Burkes.
Pietro Belluschi lived there until he died at age 94 in 1994.
His son, Anthony, and daughter-in-law, Marti, bought the single-story house, restored it and made modifications that the family, modernists and architecture experts agree would have been approved by the exacting Pietro Belluschi.
Anthony describes his father as an architect, educator, consultant, design juror, advisor, mentor and philosopher.
In 1972, the American Institute of Architects gave Pietro Belluschi its highest honor, the Gold Medal.
In 1991, Pietro Belluschi was awarded the National Medal of Arts for his lifetime achievements, the second architect after I.M. Pei and the first person from Oregon to receive the award.
The Oregon Historical Society has 24,000 drawings, photographs and documents preserved for the future Pietro Belluschi Architectural Resource Center, which is part of OHS’ research library renovation.
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072
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